In The Interest Of Establishing Real Boxing Champions, A List

Joe Calzaghe’s retirement should bring his relinquishing of the Ring magazine title belt at light heavyweight, with the Ring belt being the one title that matters most because it traces its lineage back to the days when there was only one champion in each division.*

Unfortunately, it’ll be one more vacancy in a list of many: Of the 17 divisions, only six will have authentic champions.

Since the vacancies can only be filled by a meeting between the #1 and #2 ranked fighters in each division, and occasionally between the #1 and #3 ranked fighters if the Ring board votes to put the belt up in those circumstances, boxers need to start filling those openings. Remember: It’s free of charge, because unlike all the other sanctioning organizations and their various fees, winning the Ring belt doesn’t cost anyone a penny.

Because of the vacancies, now seems like a good time to review who’s #1, #2 and #3 in each division, and the prospects of each vacancy being filled. Based on the review, I can answer you this — whether you care about the Ring belt or are for some reason interested in the WBA, WBC, et al, you should want to see the vast majority of these fights. In the interest of contributing what pressure our humble blog can bring to bear, let’s make a little racket.

HEAVYWEIGHT (unlimited)

#1: Wladimir Klitschko

#2: Vitali Klitschko

#3: Ruslan Chagaev

Prospects: I think we all know the complication here. It’s a unique one. The brothers won’t fight each other, for which I can’t blame them. I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch — I think it’d be a helluva fight — but since boxing brings with it the risk of death and brain damage, and the brothers seem to like each other and are, you know, related to one another, we’re out of luck on this one for the time being. I don’t think #1 vs. #3 in this case should fill the vacancy, because the brothers Klitschko are the clear #1 and #2. The best hope of solving this one is David Haye, who’s recently re-entered the division. If he gets Wladimir in June and beats him, I think you’d have to rate him at #1 or #2, and we know he would want Vitali next. And I’m guessing Haye is young enough to reign for a while. Of course, Vitali’s reign could be short, because he says he doesn’t want to fight much more.


Champion: Tomasz Adamek

Prospects: This one just got unified in December. It looks like Adamek is going to hang around for a bit, although he’s hinted he might some day head to heavyweight. Adamek plans to be busy, so the belt may change hands, but it looks like we’ll have a real cruiserweight king for a while one way or the other. A good bout versus Jonathan Banks is up next, and #1-ranked Steve Cunningham could be soon thereafter (keep your fingers crossed for that rematch), or maybe even Bernard Hopkins.


#1: Bernard Hopkins

#2: Chad Dawson

#3: Glen Johnson

Prospects: B-Hop has said he doesn’t want to fight Dawson, so unless he reverses himself, I’d say we’re unlikely to get a light heavyweight champ for a while. It’s too bad. It would be an excellent bout. Nor has he expressed any interest in a rematch with long-ago foe Johnson, which I think you could argue would be worthy of the vacant championship, since Johnson and Dawson fought one another just as closely as they could in 2008. B-Hop has talked about going up to cruiserweight, or retiring, and if he does, that raises the possibility of a Dawson-Johnson rematch for the belt, which I think any fan in their right minds ought to want to see. Their first meeting was one of the best of 2008.

(168 lbs.)

#1: Mikkel Kessler

#2: Lucien Bute

#3: Librado Andrade

Prospects: There’s been some discussion in the past of Kessler-Bute, and it’s another bout I think just about everyone should want to see. Only my sense of justice that Bute owes Andrade a rematch after the controversial ending to their fight trumps my interest in Kessler-Bute in this division. I’m not sure about making Kessler-Andrade II for the belt. I’d lean toward “no,” but I wouldn’t argue too much about it. None of the three look to be fleeing the division anytime soon, but Kessler’s career at this point is completely inscrutible, so I’m not sure if he’ll end up fighting a nobody in Denmark or Bute in Canada next, and Bute is off fighting Fulgencio Zuniga for some reason.


Champion: Kelly Pavlik

: Kelly hasn’t exactly defended his middleweight belt with distinction of late as he has flirted with numbers other than “160,” but that experiment seems to be over. He will probably stick around for a while now, but my fear is he’ll be lured upward again when he can’t get his hands on one of the flaky-negotiating German contenders who rank just below him, #1 Arthur Abraham and #2 Felix Sturm. Abraham’s next fight is against the inexperienced Lajuan Simon, and Sturm just turned down a boatload of euros to fight Abraham.


#1: Vernon Forrest

#2: Paul Williams

#3: Verno Phillips

Prospects: Bad. First, answer this — do you want to see Forrest-Williams? I do. I think it’d be a great bout, and maybe it could even attract a crowd in Augusta, Ga., where both men are based. Second, I haven’t heard a whisper about it. Forrest is off doing God-knows-what, and Williams is so desperate to find anyone who’ll fight him that his next opponent is Winky Wright at middleweight. Third, Williams is havoc on divisional rankings, since he fought at middleweight, junior middleweight and welterweight last year. Fourth, I don’t think Forrest-Phillips should even get a mention for filling the vacancy.


#1: Shane Mosley

#2: Miguel Cotto

#3: Antonio Margarito

Excellent. Mosley-Cotto II is among the handful of best and richest fights for both men if Margarito becomes unavailable for a Cotto rematch this summer, and we’ll find out tomorrow at a hearing about those allegedly loaded gloves whether he is. My sense is that some kind of suspension is on the way, and it’s just a matter of what kind. Mosley-Margarito last month should have been for the belt according to some, but I backed the decision not to make it for the belt. Not much separated Cotto and Mosley in their fight, to be sure, but Mosley’s spent time division-hopping himself, so his welterweight ranking was a weak #3 at the time in my eyes. Then there’s the weirdness of Williams, who should have been ranked #2 at welterweight if Ring was being consistent on ranking dudes in multiple divisions. Either they should or they shouldn’t, and if Manny Pacquiao can be ranked at lightweight and welterweight for beating Oscar De La Hoya who wasn’t ranked in the top 10 at welterweight at the time, then Williams ought to be ranked simultaneously at welter and junior middleweight after beating the #2 man, Phillips, at junior middle. If it were up to me, I’d lose the concept of ranking someone in two divisions, but let’s be consistent, fellas. Also: Mosley-Margarito II for the belt doesn’t pass any kind of measure of feasibility.


Champion: Ricky Hatton

Prospects: Hatton may soon be toppled by Pacquiao, who’s done some weight-hopping of late himself. My sense is that because his team likes the idea of him staying at 140, he’ll hold on to his belt there — assuming he wins it — for at least a while. And if Hatton wins, he’ll not vacate either. So this is good. We should have a junior welterweight champ, one way or another, for a nice time span.

LIGHTWEIGHT (135 lbs.)

Champion: Juan Manuel Marquez

Prospects: Both Marquez and his next opponent, Juan Diaz, have been mentioned as possible future Hatton opponents one division north, and Marquez always wants more Pacquiao. Still, I have to think both are more at home at lightweight, so, again, this one doesn’t look likely for a “vacancy” sign any time soon.


#1: Edwin Valero

#2: Humberto Soto

#3: Rocky Juarez

Prospects: As far as all-action fights between sluggers go, Valero-Soto is about as mouth-watering as they get. Alas, both men have flirted with playing at lightweight, so I’m not sure what this division’s rankings look like a month or two from now. And Juarez’ next fight isn’t even in this division, so Valero-Juarez sounds completely improbable and probably not worth the title anyway.

(126 lbs.)

#1: Chris John

#2: Steve Luevano

#3: Jorge Solis

Prospects: All of the potential match-ups here sound pretty good, no? John and Luevano may be purer boxers than the average fan enjoys, but I think a match-up between the two would be good, and I could maybe bite on John-Solis for the vacant belt. The question is whether John is being groomed for a rematch with Marquez at some weight or another. But if John survives his bout with
Juarez on the Marquez-Diaz undercard, and he wants to keep fighting in the United States, John-Luevano is as good a bout as he can get short of a second Marquez fight, and it would be enhanced by the fact that it would be for the vacant belt.


Champion: Israel Vazquez

Prospects: The longer Vazquez is away from the ring, the more it begins to look like he’ll never return to it. He’s had a couple eye surgeries and may be forced to retire. If he does, I would very much buy #1 Rafael Marquez for the vacant belt against #2 Celestino Caballero and maybe even #3 Juan Manuel Lopez. Lopez and Caballero could make it easier by fighting one another and settling who’s best. That’s a great fight, as is any combination of those three fighters against one another. And if Vazquez does get well, all the better.


#1: Hozumi Hasegawa

#2: Anselmo Moreno

#3: Wladimir Sidorenko

Prospects: My greatest weakness is my awareness of Japanese fighters, and I confess I’m unfamiliar with either of the other two short of the summaries of their bouts in the back of each issue of Ring. I could do some quick research and wing it, but my insights would be superficial at best, or I could just say that I’m not pining for this one. I know well and like five of the top 10 bantamweights, but these three ain’t them.


#1: Vic Darchinyan

#2: Fernando Montiel

#3: Cristian Mijares

Prospects: Well, well, all a sudden Mr. “I Can’t Make 115 Pounds” is able to now, so instead of Montiel-Nonito Donaire in March, it looks like we might end up with a fully unified junior bantamweight division if Montiel gets the Darchinyan fight he says he wants. The winner would come away with the Ring belt and four alphabet title belts. And besides, it’s a potentially great fight. So I’m kinda willing to overlook Montiel screwing us out of another potentially great fight in Montiel-Donaire on what now looks like a flimsy excuse. Mijares won’t even be in the division to be considered for the belt, because he’s moving up a weight class.

FLYWEIGHT (112 lbs.)

#1: Nonito Donaire

#2: Daisuke Naito

#3: Pongsaklek Wonjongkam

Prospects: In the immediate-term, not so good. Donaire and his team have said they want Naito, but not the other way around. I don’t know what the case is, but Donaire isn’t much longer for this division anyway. The good news is that if he does depart, we could get Naito-Wonjongkam V (yes, that’s five times), with the winner walking away with the belt. If they’ll fight each other four times, they’ll fight each other five times, right? And it’s not like the first four lacked for drama or interestingness — 1st-round knockout, technical decision, upset, draw. So all in all, the prospects for a good bout that would crown a divisional champ are at least decent.


Champion: Ivan Calderon

Calderon talks about leaving for a higher weight from time to time, but lately he’s talked more prominently about fighting #1 challenger Ulises Solis. So this division looks safe, sound and interesting for at least a little while longer, and it even has a little depth, which isn’t always the case with the lower weight divisions.

STRAWWEIGHT (105 lbs.)

#1: Roman Gonzalez

#2: Raul Garcia

#3: Oleydong Sithsamerchai

Prospects: Any fight involving Gonzalez ought to get folk excited — he’s as power-packed as a fighter of his size can get. Garcia appears to be a worthy competitor. What else is there for either man, really, that could get anyone excited about strawweight? As it happens, I don’t know Japanese OR Thai fighters that well, so I can’t really say much about the value of Sithsamerchai challenging for the vacant belt.

There you have it. Hopkins-Dawson. Kessler-Bute. Forrest-Williams. Mosley-Cotto II. Valero-Soto. John-Luevano. Hasegawa-Moreno. Darchinyan-Montiel. Donaire-Naito. Gonzalez-Garcia. I count about four of those fights that would make most fans’ list of dream bouts for 2009, and the rest have plenty to speak for them as well — not to mention some of the #1/#3 match-ups being extremely high on the quality/interest list. Get to work, fellas.

(*For reasons that are too complex to explain, there are a couple exceptions to the linear-ness of the Ring belts, and one of them is at light heavyweight. If only Zsolt Erdei would fight the winner of Hopkins-Dawson, it’d all be settled in that division. Don’t count on it.)

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.